by Galme Mumed
On Sunday March 19th 2016, Black Lives Matter Toronto organized a rally at Nathan Phillip’s Square, in protest against anti-Black racism in Toronto and specifically in response to the special investigations Units decision not to charge the police officer involved in the shooting and killing of Andrew Loku last July, it was also a response to the reduction of Afrofest to one day. Hundreds of people from various communities showed up to demand justice and to protest the continued erasure of Black people in Toronto. We stood at Nathan Phillip’s Square with members of our community as we honored, mourned and celebrated the lives of those we have lost but whose spirits live on.
I stood in the crowd and listened to Black storytellers put words to feelings all of us have felt but have not been able to express. I watched our elders lead us in prayer and reconnect us with our ancestors. I watched as Black people danced fearlessly and freely, even if it was just in that space for that period of time, to Music that has come out of Black struggle; the true sounds of resistance. A few hours later the rally was coming to end and the crowd was getting smaller, my self and about six of my friends drove from Guelph because we received a message from the organizers saying they needed more bodies for the tent city.
It was getting dark and really cold, some of the organizers and community members who have decided to stay the night got under blankets and start to prepare for the long night ahead. We had a fire going and we all joined in singing our favourite old school tracks and the many freedom songs as a way to keep our spirits high and pass time. About an hour after we started getting comfortable the organizers told us that police in riot gear and were about to move in on us and we needed to make a decision weather to stay or move to another location. The decision was made to pack up our tents and our fire and move to Toronto police headquarters on College Street.
We packed up our tents and those of us who had the capacity to move to the next location made a decision to continue on. Something told me that I needed to go and be apart of this. At this time nothing could have prepared me for how transformative and healing this decision was going to be for me, I don’t think any of us knew what we were about the take part in or how long this was going to be, we just knew we needed to be here and not anywhere else. We arrived at the police headquarters super late at night. We built our tents and prepared to go to sleep for the night. That first night was brutal that I could feel the cold in my bones, there was not enough blankets at all. Three of my friends and I held each other super tight hoping that our body heat would keep us a bit warmer. That was not the case because the whole night I was afraid to lay down and sleep because I actually thought I would freeze to death, but I made it and realized that this was not about me it was about something bigger.
The morning was beautiful we all cuddled under blankets around the fire and sang songs, shared stories, laughter, and a space where we all felt safe and loved, most of us had never met before this occupation but it felt like we knew each other. We had Black and Indigenous elders stop by to give us some words of encouragement. We had Indigenous elders in the space keep the fire going, smudging the space and praying with us, it was after we were in the space we realized we were right beside the Native youth center, which was clearly not accidental at all. It was not until I am writing this I’m realizing that that whole day was preparing us for the violence and trauma we would have to face later that night.
On Monday March 21st at about around 10pm we got word that the police were going to come and try to make us leave. We all linked arms and formed a huge circle around our tents and the fire that has been keeping us warm. We stood there fearlessly and waited, we waited as we watched about over twenty police officers walk and form a straight line overlooking us in front of the police building. The head of police made an announcement stating that we can stay but we can’t have the tents nor the fire, we made a decision to not move and that their fear tactics will not work on us. There were police, firefighters, and men all types of uniforms. The pigs were mostly white men, they were all tall and huge. On our side we were mostly Black woman, there were also children, elders, disabled people forming the circle around the fire and the tent. I remember standing there as firm as I could to protect our tents and within seconds I watched police officers charge at us, they pushed us, they kicked us, they punched us, and they sexually harassed us. They flung the barrel of fire down to the ground near children, they destroyed and grabbed the tents from our hands and they threatened to shoot! All I could hear is creaming crying and but we were also fearless. They put our fire out but they sparked another fire in us that they can never kill. A pig grabbed me and threw me down on layers of fire wood, I have always known that we were not human beings in their eyes but that moment made things real. I cried like I have never cried before not because I was in physical pain, but I cried for every black person in that space and globally whose lives are not valuable and whos lives don’t matter and who are disposable and whose skin colour has been a target of violence.
Amongst the trauma and anger there was something magical happening something bigger than all of us. Minutes after the pigs left every single one of us in that space hugged in a huge circle and started chanting “I Believe that we will win” and it was powerful. One image that I have held on to and have not been able to forget was of an Indigenous couple and their baby in a stroller stand between us and the police, to protect us and to let the pigs know whose land this is and that they will not touch us. I was in tears as I watched them wave the Six Nations flag to let us know that Black lives Matter on Indigenous land. That night we all sat together sang freedom songs like our various ancestors did and we knew we were protected. We were sitting in the stolen front year of our enemy and we had no fear, because we were connected to something more powerful than this system.
The next morning our communities from various parts of Toronto and across Canada showed up! Everyone came strapped ready to go to battle, ready to build, ready to heal. They came offering anything they had to offer weather they were healers, artist, writers, cooks, business owners, Black people from all walks of life came to let us know they see us and if they come out tonight they might as well get ready for war. The place that brought us so much trauma and violence became our home because that is what we are capable of taking something that represents so much trauma and turning it into a world that we can all safely exist without fear. The donations were coming in like floods. There were mountains of blankets, the food was endless, we had hot dinners almost every night. We were able to feed our homeless communities and provide shelter for them. We were able to take care of our own, I can’t even explain how that felt being able to provide the people in our communities who have been fucked over by the system the most these basic things.
We lived amongst each other for fifteen days. We woke up the warm kisses, hugs and prayers of our indigenous elders. I watched them smug the whole space with sage. People who usually never share space shared space with each other, we spoke about how our struggles are connected how important it is that we continue to work with each other, how critical it is that we learn from each other and build meaningful relationships with one another. Indigenous organizers and black organizers were able to share knowledge and be in the same space infront of police headquarters! Like what the fuck? How powerful is that? How dangerous is that for this system that has been built on the back of our communities. I wonder why they never tried that shit again for the next fifteen days we were there. That space was transformative it was us reimaging together. Prior to this experience I heard a lot about transformative justice and Tent City showed me and example of what that looks like even if it was a very simple and small example. I stayed at Tent City every single night except one or two nights because I needed to be home, it was my community, I was protected, I was loved, I was cared for, I felt and believed that everyone in the space knew my live mattered and it was valued and it was important. We affirmed one another. We spoke about revolution, we talked about liberation, and we asked each other what ways we can show up for each other. We shared skills and we began a process of healing and building trust with one another. In the fifteen days we watched the space transform into a different space that reflected each day. There was an art station where artists can come and visualize our experiences, there was a medic station with everything we needed, there was a healing space where Black and Indigenous elders setup message beds and performed spiritual healing, there was the food station where our elders fed us foods that they know to be good for us. I imagined this is probably the closest thing to show me what living in a decolonized world would look like. I learned that Indigenous folks are not fucking around and that we have a lot to learn from them. We had addicts who became clean due to our elders working with them, we deescalated intense situations without involving any outsiders, we all lived together without any issue for fifteen days. we held members of our communities who are the most vulnerable the closest and did not shun them away no matter how “problematic” they were, I understood that none of us disposable to each other that we all need each other, we might be disposable outside of Tent City, but not here amongst our people.
Until we are all free and we will be, I will hold on to the small taste of freedom that tent city was for me. I will stand behind indigenous people in their struggle to reclaim their land and I know they are ready to stand beside behind us and beside us in our fight for our liberation the Universe has brought us all together for a reason. Let’s do this shit!
I was born in Hararge Oromia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old but my heart and my memories are still in Hararge Oromia. I believe I am here in Canada for a reason and have a purpose to serve both here and in my home. I am proud to call myself Oromo and Muslim and Black. I feel like my ancestors have left me with many teachings and gifts that I’m constantly trying to listen to. I am a revolutionary because that’s the legacy I was born into.